OKONJO-IWEALA VS SERAP: Understanding the salient issues at stake

08122015C Okonjo IwealaTHE recent call by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, on the Federal Government to probe a former Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala over how the funds recovered from the late Gen Sani Abacha ,retd, were spent, has elicited counter reactions from the ex-minister.

For the purpose of clarity, it is imperative to understand the arguments at stake as presented by the both sides.

Backing its call on some World Bank documents it claimed to have, the Executive Director of SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, said some of the documents raised questions about what exactly happened to the Abacha loot.

The organisation said: ‘’SERAP can confirm that last week we received several documents from Ann May of the Access to Information Team of the World Bank following our access to information request to the bank. Our preliminary review of some of the documents have revealed certain facts which raise more questions about what exactly happened to Abacha loot.

What exactly happened to Abacha Loot?

“First, that Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as minister of finance in a letter dated 9 January 2005 explained to the bank that around $500m (N65bn) of Abacha loot received from Switzerland was programmed into and spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health across all 6 geo-political zones of Nigeria.

“Second, Mrs Iweala explained to the bank that N18.60bn was spent on roads; N10.83bn spent on health; N7bn spent on education; N6.20bn spent on water; and N21.70bn spent on electricity. She also said that parts of the funds were spent on new and ongoing investment projects.

“Mrs Iweala said that relevant federal ministries have the full details on the spending of repatriated Abacha loot. The Bank noted that there was no funds monitoring and tracking mechanism in place to trace the spending of Abacha loot.

‘’Third, Mr Rachid Benmessaoud confirmed that the World Bank played a monitoring role in a return of assets by Switzerland but that the bank is not currently involved in the monitoring of spending of Abacha loot that have been returned to Nigeria in recent years.

 Monitoring role in return of assets

“He said that the bank would be prepared to set up a mechanism to monitor the use of Abacha loot if the Nigerian government request the bank’s assistance in this respect. Given Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s involvement in the spending of Abacha loot, SERAP calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently probe the role of the Ministry of Finance and relevant federal ministries in the spending of Abacha loot particularly given the strong allegations of mismanagement that characterised the use of the funds.

“Although Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said that Abacha loot was spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health across all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, there is no evidence of such projects as millions of Nigerians continue to travel on dead roads, while they continue to lack access to adequate electricity supply, water, health and quality education. Therefore, President Buhari can no longer continue to remain silent on this issue of public interest if Nigerians are to continue to trust him in his fight against corruption.”

How N65bn Abacha loot was spent

However, in her response, Okonjo-Iweala said that about $500 million (N65bn) recovered from the Abacha was spent in the 2004 and 2005 budgets on roads, electricity, education, water and health across all six geo-political zones of Nigeria.

This was contained in the documents the World Bank sent to SERAP, following enquiries made by SERAP on how the money was spent.

Also, a statement by the ex-Minister’s Media Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwachukwu said: “It is curious that SERAP, ignoring more worthy issues, decided to embark on this fishing expedition of a 10 year old process that was handled in an exemplary and transparent fashion. This shows that neither the organization nor its charges should be taken seriously.

“Even though SERAP says its allegations were based on a World Bank statement, it neglected to tell the world that the same World Bank actively collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Finance on a 2006 field report which analyzed how the repatriated funds were used.”

“As part of the repatriation process, the Swiss government requested and the Nigerian government under President Obasanjo agreed that the World Bank should monitor the use of the repatriated Abacha funds.

Repatriation process

“The field survey, released in 2006, is titled ‘Utilization of Repatriated Abacha loot: Results of the Field Monitoring Exercise’. It shows that specific funds were indeed transparently programmed and used to boost the budgets of specific target ministries in 2004 and 2005.”

“To say the obvious, civil society groups play a very important role in putting positive pressure on government to remain focused on good governance in order to ensure that clear and measurable results are achieved. No country can manage governance to global standards without civil society groups. And Nigeria is no exception. Nigeria has many credible advocacy groups doing important work in many areas.

“It is therefore sad that SERAP which has made other false allegations against Okonjo-Iweala is hiding under the hallowed umbrella of civil society while acting as a tool for reprehensible, corrupt vested interests,” he said.

“No amount of sponsored propaganda can conceal the fact that the implementation of the agreement with the Swiss government was done transparently and the report was publicly issued. The entire process was properly managed and reviewed with the help of reputable international organizations.”

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